The Sorcerer was one of the early home computer systems, released in 1978 by the videogame company, Exidy. It was comparatively advanced when released, especially when compared to the contemporary more commercially oriented Commodore PET and TRS-80, but due to a number of problems including a lack of marketing, the machine remained relatively unknown. Exidy eventually pulled it from the market in 1980, and today they are a coveted collector's item.
Having recently sold his share of the seminal personal computer stores, the Byte Shop, Paul Terrell started looking for new ventures. He eventually convinced the founders of Exidy, H.R. "Pete" Kauffman and Howell Ivy, that a truly simple computer with reasonable performance still wasn't available. At the time, the PET and TRS-80 offered the out-of-the-box experience he felt was necessary, but these lacked the graphics he felt would be needed, and required the use of a computer monitor which drove up the price. The Apple II offered both graphics and color, but required at least some user assembling to get operational. His dream machine would combine these features.
The result was the Sorcerer. It was powered by a Zilog Z80 running at 2.106 MHz with 4 to 48 kilobytes of RAM, giving it performance parity with the TRS-80. In its basic form it consisted of a single chassis containing the computing hardware with the keyboard on top, a layout that became common with machines like the Atari 800 and Commodore VIC-20. In this form it could be attached to a 3rd party computer monitor and used with software loaded from the "ROM-PAC" cartridges and a cassette tape drive as a low-cost offering. For larger systems, the base unit could be attached to an external S-100 expansion chassis that sat behind the console, allowing cards to expand the system as well as offering floppy disk support.
The Sorcerer was first launched in April 1978 at the PERCOMP convention in Long Beach, California at a price of US$895. The expansion systems and drives were released at the same time. Shipments did not start until later that summer. However, the machine never sold well in the US, likely due to the introduction of newer machines like the Atari 800 that offered many more features (including color graphics and sound) and directly supported television sets for output, reducing overall system costs.
Exidy tired of the effort quickly. In 1979 the company sold the rights to the design to Dynasty Computer Corp. of Dallas, Texas. They made minor updates and re-released it as the "Dynasty smart-ALEC".
The Sorcerer was a combination of parts from a standard S-100 bus machine, combined with their custom display circuitry. The machine included the Zilog Z80 and various bus features needed to run the CP/M operating system, but placed them inside a "closed" box with a built-in keyboard similar to machines like the Commodore PET, the Commodore 64, and the Atari 8-bit family. Unlike those machines, the Sorcerer's keyboard was a high quality unit with full "throw". The keyboard included a custom "Graphics" key, which allowed easy entry of the extended character set, without having to overload the Control key, the more common solution on other machines. Somewhat ahead of its peers, the Sorcerer included lower case characters as a standard feature.
Unlike most S-100 CP/M machines of its era, the Sorcerer did not have any internal expansion slots, and everything that was needed for basic computing was built-in. A standard video monitor was required for display, and optionally a standard audio cassette deck was needed for data storage. The Sorcerer included a small ROM containing a simple monitor program which allowed the machine to be controlled at the machine language level, as well as load programs from cassette tape or cartridges. The cartridges, known as "ROM PAC"s in Exidy-speak, were built by replacing the internal tape in an eight-track tape case with a circuit board and edge connector to interface with the Sorcerer.
The machine was usable without any expansion, but if the user wished to use S-100 cards they could do so with an external expansion chassis. This was connected to the back of the machine through a 50-pin connector. Using the expansion chassis the user could directly support floppy disks, and boot from them into CP/M (without which the disks were not operable). Another expansion option was a large external cage which included a full set of S-100 slots, allowing the Sorcerer to be used like a "full" S-100 machine. Still another option combined the floppies, expansion chassis and a small monitor into a single large-ish box.
Graphics on the Sorcerer sound impressive, with a resolution of 512×240, when most machines of the era supported a maximum of 320×200. These lower resolutions were a side effect of the inability of the video hardware to read the screen data from RAM fast enough; given the slow speed of the machines they would end up spending all of their time driving the display. The key to building a usable system was to reduce the total amount of data, either by reducing the resolution, or by reducing the number of colors.